The Illusion of Power
With the announcement of the result of the Scottish independence referendum now several days behind us, the mood throughout the country
is still slightly uncomfortable. Some people are delighted, others are devastated. However, even more (from both camps) are left somewhere in
the middle feeling slightly violated and wondering what the hell just happened.
The last two weeks of the campaign brought a torrential onslaught of fear and doomsday forecasts, the likes of which we had never seen. Even staunch “No” voters started to waver in their convictions, as they began to question everything they were being told in light of the seemingly indisputable assertion that the world may, quite literally, end in the event of a Yes vote. Could it possibly be true that a
declaration of political independence of a small country in a peaceful and democratic manner could cause the next worldwide great depression? Were our pensions and savings really going to instantaneously disappear, while our mortgages quadrupled in size? Was immediate attack by religious extremist groups and even aliens inevitable? Would we be unceremoniously expelled from every worldwide organisation which Scotland had contributed to the inception and growth of?
Then, with the fear, came the love-bombing. A terrible word in its own right, but even more deeply uncomfortable when coming from the mouth of a politician. “ Scotland, we love you”, they told us. “Please don’t go. Let’s stay together. We are Better Together.”
In the immediate aftermath of the ultimate victory of the Better Together campaign, its stunning how quickly “Scotland, we love you” started to take on an entirely different tone.
Scotland, we love you (r natural resources and plentiful oil.)
Scotland, we love you (paying more tax into our economy that you will ever get back, while still having to suffer the obviously false
assertion that you are subsidised.)
Scotland, we love you (having no choice but to allow us to auction off exploratory fracking licenses for your most populous regions.)
Scotland, we love you (but we are cutting your funding.)
Scotland, we love you (but don’t mistake that for actually giving two hoots about you.)
Welcome to North Britain, indeed.
The independence movement gained considerable ground during the course of the two years of the debate. Westminster largely and pointedly
ignored the argument, feeling that a comfortable victory for the union was unquestionable. In the last two weeks of the campaign however, the
ground began to shift. “Yes” took the lead in the opinion polls and Westminster politicians found themselves collectively sitting in a pile of their own brown and sticky muck. Thus, the grand trio of Imperial Masters; Cameron, Clegg and Miliband, were dispatched to Scotlandshire – the theory being that the peasants would be so overcome with gratitude at such magnificence on their own home soil that they would instantly side with the union.
Even for a lot of No voters, the actions of the Better Together campaign in the dying weeks of the debate were more than faintly ridiculous. Instead of focusing on the positive case for remaining in the union, they chose to hone in with microscopic detail on fear and uncertainty, while simultaneously telling us that it was all too hard to think about and we should just say no. We were told that if Scotland were to become independent – the earth would open up and swallow us, our children would turn to stone and our toenails would turn to razorblades. As increasingly ludicrous as the claims became and as increasingly transparent the outright lies were, the sad truth of human nature is that fear has enormous power. It did no service to a movement that was all about hope and whose greatest crime was unfettered optimism to be met with what were portrayed as iron-clad guarantees of bankruptcy, homelessness and abject failure for a whole nation.
In a technique widely used by professional interrogators, once we were broken down to the ground and paralysed with terror, they offered us
solace and veiled kindness. “How about some Devo-Max?”, they said. On the surface of it, that does seem like a good option to many – more
powers for Scotland but still under the umbrella of the UK, with whatever protection that may afford.
Let’s just say I’m cautiously skeptical of how that will turn out. As it turns out, the Devo-Max mystery box was exactly what the unionist campaign needed to seal the deal. And with no proper guarantees (except the front page of a tabloid newspaper and the word of a backbench Labour MP), no real sense of what these “powers” would be and consequently no ability to examine in detail what this might actually mean in real terms for Scotland, 55% of the country voted “No” to independence.
The next day, many a tear was shed. Scotland, they said, has rejected independence. 45% of the voting population casting their ballot against a proposition has been seamlessly rebranded as a decisive victory that “settles the question for generations, if not a lifetime.” In other words, get thee firmly back in thy box, Scotland.
Now, we have to move on in our discussions from the independence question and on to the subject of further devolution for Scotland. A loaded question, if ever there was one. When I turned on the TV on the day that the result was announced, much of the talk was of how much devolution London City could be afforded in this new UK-wide constitutional reform. Scotland seemed to have been immediately consigned to the history books as the people who bravely paved the way for the improvement of life in the south of England. I wasn’t aware that nearly half of all who voted in Scotland had voted for devolution of London. I suppose the goalposts must have been moved while we were asleep.
Please don’t misunderstand my meaning here. Of course, other UK nations should have devolution, if that is their desire. With different areas of the country holding dear such a wide array of differing priorities and requirements, a broadly decentralised governance policy does seem potentially desirable. Obviously, the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland should not be left behind. However, nobody can possibly have failed to notice that this is not what the previous two years of debating and arguments have been about.
The rest of the UK deserves a voice, of course, but should that voice be, what is actually in fact, Scotland’s voice? With the hindsight and trials of two years of relentless campaigning behind them, you must forgive some of the battle-wearied foot soldiers of the Yes movement for occasionally feeling that the rest of the UK must not only be afforded the basic dignity of deciding for themselves but should ultimately probably fight their own battles.
There are many who suggest that devolution may actually be a barbed gift, particularly for Scotland anyway. It is no secret that Scotland currently receives more money per head than England – a peculiarity which many refer to as a “subsidy”, despite the fact that Scotland pays for that extra cash and considerably more in our tax and oil revenues. I wouldn’t be remotely surprised to see this “extra funding” suddenly start to disappear, as the highly and carefully selected set of powers devolved to Scotland are configured to allow a sneaky recalculation of the formula which decides our budget. What we are essentially being given is the illusion of power, with a probable accompanying sweeping budget cut. It does not seem remotely beyond the realm of possibility that we are being hoodwinked. Feeling the way that many of us, both Yes and No voters, do about the political establishment with their morally corrupt and self-serving manners, this may come as no particular surprise. Perhaps those who feel this way are wrong. It remains to see how it plays out. However, it is difficult to argue against the proposition that the London establishment only ever has the interests of the London establishment at heart. If there is any conceivable way to wrangle yet more money out of Scotland, I would be frankly astonished to see the politicians not seize the opportunity.
Let’s face it – Scotland has no real clout in UK general elections anyway. The Conservatives have one solitary MP here and traditional Labour heartlands are loudly expressing wide and passionate discontent with how they were spoken to by their party during the debate. With the independence question “settled” and the North Sea oil revenues that aid so heavily in attempting to balance their books now safe, Westminster have no real solid reason to keep Scotland happy.
One extremely important and pivotal point of this is widely completely misunderstood. At the end of the day, this Yes movement was not, at its heart, entirely about the ideal of independence alone. Indeed, a lot of people saw independence as a vehicle to achieving a much loftier set of goals revolving around social justice, political reform and environmental responsibility. It was about disengaging both physically and metaphorically from a corrupt and broken system that serves only the interests of those who run it. It was about recognising what issues affect us all and how we can potentially work together to achieve a better future. It was about the ability of ordinary people to stand up in front of their government and say, “You do NOT represent me.”
Wars, discrimination, gender inequality, fracking, climate chaos, nuclear weapons, greed, hero-worship of bankers and a completely London centric view of the universe? I do not want any of these things. But thank you for never once asking me. Not even once.
Now, with the referendum behind us, a lot of those who weren’t part of “Yes” are jumping enthusiastically on board this ship – realising that while for years we have been forced into wildly different rhetoric, a great many of us have the same core values. For a growing number, there is no longer Yes/No and instead we are focussing on “Now” and “What’s next?”. Amidst all the current turmoil and anguish, we can see the shape of a more united, vocal and inspired Scotland starting slowly to form. And it’s absolutely beautiful.
Despite the battle of independence for Scotland being lost for now, there is absolutely no reason why the trend of holding our elected officials to account for their actions should come to an end. We have an essential right to demand honesty, integrity, selflessness and compassion from all of our politicians – although it might take a long time to achieve this. As a country and a population so inspired, we have it in us to change the path and light the way. I can only hope that we rise to the challenge.